From DA 88: The David B. Milne Playing Card Project

sample card from the David B. Milne Playing Card Project featuring a watercolour of various king, queen and knave images used on the face cards.

One of the fascinating articles in the latest issue of the Devil’s Artisan dives into a rather non-traditional project taken on by Canadian painter David B. Milne in the early 1940s. Milne became fascinated by the history of playing cards and created a series of watercolours featuring the characters we normally see on face cards–kings, queens and knaves/jacks. These watercolours were later used to create actual decks of playing cards in 1973 by Stan Bevington and David Silcox.

You can read about this fascinating project in DA 88.

You can also purchase one of a limited number of sets of these playing cards, should you find the project of particular interest. Keep reading for information about the set and how to order.

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(David Milne/Coach House Press/Stan Bevington/David Silcox). A set of two decks of the standard 52 playing cards plus two jokers each, measuring 9 x 6.3 cm (standard size), designs based on two watercolours by David Milne. (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1973). 1 of 100 sets in a custom-made wooden box (11.5 x 14.8 cm, either Ontario white pine or Ontario walnut) with a sliding lid.

The set of decks, showing recto and verso cards, displayed in a custom-made wooden box.

The rectos of both decks are illustrated with a watercolour design from Milne’s ‘King, Queen, and Jokers’ I and II — the first deck features a reproduction of figures taken from of one watercolour image in ‘King, Queen, and Jokers I’, while the second deck features a reproduction of figures from one watercolour image in ‘King, Queen, and Jokers II.’ The figures for the knaves, queens, kings and jokers are taken from the Milne watercolours, which in the original watercolours are full-figures but for the face cards in the decks are depicted in the more traditional three-quarter figure.

In an interview with Don McLeod in DA: The Devil’s Artisan (issue 88, 2021), Stan Bevington discusses the genesis and evolution of these cards and details their printing and production. The process involved the use of integrated random grain screenless photography and a complicated colour separation procedure.


Sets of the cards can be ordered from David Mason Books at:  or 416-598-1015

Appointment is necessary to view. Please call.

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The Devil's Artisan is remarkable in Canadian publishing in that most of the physical production of our journal is completed in-house at the shop on the Main Street of Erin Village. We print on a twenty-five inch Heidelberg KORD, typically onto acid-free Zephyr Antique laid. The sheets are then folded, and sewn into signatures on a 1907 model Smyth National Book Sewing machine.

To take a virtual tour of the pressroom, visit us at YouTube for a discussion of offset printing in general, and the operation of a Heidelberg KORD in particular. Other videos include Four Colour Printing, Smyth Sewing and Wood Engraving. Photographs of production machinery used on these pages were taken by Sandra Traversy on site at the printing office of the Porcupine's Quill, December 2008.

The Devil's Artisan would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Magazine Fund (CMF) through the Support for Arts and Literary Magazines (SALM) component toward our editorial and production costs. Thanks, as well, for the generosity of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Sleeman Brewing Company.